The Rev. LeeAnne Watkins: The way we do Formation is not Working

The Rev. LeeAnne Watkins, Rector at St. Mary’s, St. Paul, confesses what she never thought she would – that adult Faith Formation, as it’s always been done, is not working.

Despite years of experience and lots of good will, traditional Faith Formation programming is floundering in communities across the country. In this video the Rev. LeeAnne Watkins ponders what might be at the root of this shift and what is replacing the Wednesday night/Sunday morning adult education format.

St. Mary’s, St. Paul is a growing faith community located in the Merriam Park neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota.


  1. Beth Royalty

    Wow. I’m blown away by LeeAnne’s courage, but also deeply saddened by her sadness over this. I wonder what response would be helpful? I’m left with lots to process and wonder about.

  2. Neil Elliott

    That doesn’t sound like “a failure as a priest”: that sounds like a clear-eyed, clear-hearted discernment of just how the world feels right now–and the courage to say that out loud. THERE’S an interesting topic of conversation across the diocese and beyond. Meanwhile, it also sounds as though the liturgical life of the church has clearly nourished very active, fulfilling–and, yes, busy–lives!

  3. Lynn Lutz

    Oh LeeAnne, I was so touched by your heart in the video. My first response is to say “I want to hear what you have to say! I love to talk about Jesus!!!” However, it is what it is. People ARE busy. A question I have is “How are people being fed spiritually by doing outreach?” You have a Jesus filled heart LeeAnne and that comes through loud and clear. I will pray. Blessings, dear one.

  4. Mindy Boynton

    You are one of the bravest women that I know. You speak from all of our hearts and I am deeply grateful for your words and a bit sad. Thank you for sharing what many of us just think, hope and pray about.

  5. Robert M. McClay

    Hi LeeAnne,
    Wonderful commentary. I was pleased to hear you speak of Jesus. The first step to recovery is admitting failure. A possible course is to preach from the pulpit about Jesus as Lord and Savior. The truth of the Creedal Jesus and his dominion over our lives is not complicated but profound. It is the singular most important fact for each of us to believe. You, me and all confessing Christians are charged with the responsibility of the Great Commission. That charge from Jesus is to be delivered wholey in Love and with the image of Jesus in each person. Each of us are vessels for the Good News the core of which is Jesus as the divine incarnate Son of God who gave his life so that each of us may have the opportunity for eternal salvation. That message is on offer through the Creed and Eucharist. The call is to proclaim its truth from the scriptures from the pulpit. In short don’t over think this. Jesus is in charge. He is a mighty God. He will lead your parishioners to Faith through you his faithful servant.

  6. LeeAnne:

    Thanks be to God! You had the courage to say it. Now if I can only have the courage to live it!

    St. Mary’s isn’t alone. I’ve served my present congregation for seven and a half years. I can “teach” about anything I want any time I want any day/night/afternoon I want. We will have 5-10 people show up — the SAME 5-10 people every time. The group who shows up has an average age of 73 or so in a congregation with an average age of around 45. In the meantime, we have a (mostly) steady ASA of 170.

    They all tell me the same thing — schedules, time, stresses, children…you’ve heard it all before — but I think you’re actually on to the real issue. The methodology we’ve been schooled in is just too SLOW! When I watch a TED talk or see a really smart YouTube video or listen to a Podcast, I can do that at whatever time I can fit it in, in my pajamas, with my favorite beverage and in under 15 minutes. Now I know there are folks who don’t believe religion should be “convenient” and this is not what I’m advocating, but I do think we’ve been investing our congregational capital — in time, talent and treasure — to keep propping up a way of “being church” that is long dead and ain’t coming back.

    But I think resurrection is happening all around us…we’re simply not looking in the right places.

  7. Beautiful. Honest, brave. “I love the people here, a whole lot.”
    If there is anything I have ever learned from God’s story, its that, love—it always wins.
    Keep loving, this is the root of the growth in this community. Teach people how to love the way that Jesus does, the way that you do dear one. It works, its beautiful. And so is this community.

  8. Patti Davis

    Lee Anne, what you have described is honest, painful and thought-provoking. But what struck me, as a deacon, is that your people are out there doing hands-on outreach with people in need. And since the way I came to ordination was through the accidental (?) meeting of Jesus during a visit to a nursing home, I think your people are all about Jesus, in a way that I envy for my church. And too, the way we often come to theology is by meeting the hard questions up close and personal in the lives of those we’d rather not encounter. So, know that you are making a difference.

  9. Diane Power

    Thanks for doing this, LeeAnne! It was excellent! We are sure that it is not St. Mary’s alone that has this situation. And it is not just churches. I don’t think many of us are evangelists – we do not sell/tell what we love or what our cause is. Occasionally we do and find people are not always interested. Perhaps each of us must continue doing good as we can and find what we can do well in the world.

  10. LeeAnne,
    I am so very blessed that you spoke the truth to what a lot of us encounter each year/season as we try to put together meaningful educational experiences for the people of God. About the only thing we’ve been successful in over the ten years I’ve been in Mankato are Wednesdays in Lent, a Bible Study on Tuesday afternoons, and our adult class on Sundays. And by successful, I mean, we get the same ten or so folks going to these. Enriching for them–I hope!–but the vast majority of folk just do not have the time during their busy week. We’re glad just to get folks in worship on Sunday!

    Seems to me there has to be a way we can engage in ongoing conversation [clergy and lay] about this….

  11. Hello there solwrker –
    Thank you (and everyone) for your comments – really helpful stuff. And I think you are right when you talk about TED talks and online learning. It’s greatly encouraging and I think new technology is where it would be wise for the church in general and me in particular to put energy. St Mary’s is beginning that process with our St Mary’s Mornings – a very short daily email with a bit of scripture, wisdom or prayer. It’s quickly becoming a big hit. You can view each day’s installment on our Facebook page, and through that can also sign up to receive them directly.

    So as much as it is an end to one way of doing things, God is good and the Gospel is resiliently Good News and we can either lament the loss of the old way (isn’t there an ‘how many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb’ joke in there somewhere?) or get excited about the new ways. I, for one, now having been honest about end of the old ways, am excited about the new ways. The Spirit is strong and I want to hang out wherever she is.

    LeeAnne Watkins

  12. OnTheGo

    As a long-time churchgoer who is eager to discuss Jesus but has also admittedly declined a lot of the opportunities presented at church for the very reasons LeeAnn gives in her wonderfully candid video, I think that faith formation is essential, and the traditional ways of doing it are not working.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but it seems significant that I’m taking time out of my busy schedule to reflect on it because of an email notification that popped into my inbox this morning, linking to video and an opportunity for discussion.

  13. LeeAnne – Watching this is so painful! But it is exactly what I have experienced in my current (9 year) tenure. It isn’t you; it isn’t me. There’s something about our culture. We need a new way to reach our “audience”.

  14. Ginny

    LeeAnne ,
    I watched your video and thought it was brave but I have to say you have not failed you have taught and here is what was playing in my head the whole time I watched.

    “AND, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days.”

    Straight from the good old BCP. We do, because we are thankful for all the gifts given us and you have taught us to show the world we are thankful.
    This might not be the way you set out to teach us but this is what we heard.

    Remember Jesus sent the apostles out to show his message to the world not to keep it within themselves. That is what we try to do and believe me I feel Gods presence every single time I am with those people and I learn so much especially about Gods love .
    Peace and nice work!

  15. When we moved to Wisconsin from California I eagerly offered up the idea of conducting a Via Media course that had been a blowout success at my home parish when I first experienced it. After I wore the rector down, he allowed me to do a six-week series. The most people I ever got to show up was … 3

    I know that people in the pews are curious and hungry for knowledge and an experience of spirituality, and I share your frustration that 98% just aren’t necessarily motivated enough to take action on that. I’ve had life-transforming experiences through adult formation in the episcopal church but it’s true that times are a-changin’

    Could there be a new modality emerging?

  16. Some 30 years ago I canceled Sunday School after almost no one responded to the Director’s pleas for teachers. There was a huge outcry — and several volunteers — but I stood firm. “There is a reason no one is volunteering,” I said, “God is calling us to be or do something else, and we need to stop and listen.” One of the best decisions I’ve made….because that turned out to be exactly what we needed.

    You are NOT alone….I travel, consult, teach and listen to people all over the country and this is a common theme. I believe that we are doing what worked in the Modern Era/Machine Age/Industrial Age — a time when we used the scientific method and broke knowledge down into age appropriate segments and administered them to children as they moved down the assembly line from one classroom to the next. And when we got to adult, we broke knowledge into segments and administered it by topic, interest group, stage of life, etc. But all of that assumes the acquisition of knowledge at age and life appropriate stages is how our faith is formed. That simply will not work in the Post-Modern/Technological Age. We live and move and have our being in a very different way today than when I grew up in the 50’s. It really is a different world.

    So you are doing exactly the right thing. The first step is: STOP doing it the way we always did it when it stops working. Wait. Look for where God is already active (because God IS active….we just fail to see that because we’re looking in that classroom, small group, program, etc.). I don’t know where that is in your church/community but I am positive that God is alive and well and busy drawing people to God’s self. So do what we as Christians have always done. Let it die. Go out into the wilderness….into the unknown and look with fresh eyes. Pray. Wait. Look. Listen. And when you see that spark of the Spirit, however small it may be, go there and worship. Learn from it. Add some small scrap to that spark. Then a twig. A branch. And a log until you’ve built a bonfire that, like the warmth and light of all fires, will draw people.

    You say people are doing outreach — things that make them feel good, that make a difference. Frankly, I’d start there. No groups or classes or lectures. Just be there with them. Listen to what they say. Ask an occasional “I wonder….” question. Be ready to respond to whatever questions they have — not with the answers but with nudges, wondering questions, stories — your stories, biblical stories, their stories. Help people begin to make the connections. Take time to pray yourself….alone in the beginning but openly. Embrace anyone who joins you….make room in the circle. In other words, live your teaching.

    This is the most challenging task we have as a church right now — all of us who have been so well taught and trained to do ministry for a church that largely doesn’t exist anymore. Now we have to be brave souls, willing to go out in the wilderness and follow Jesus where we find him — or even where we hope to find him. It can be hard. The signposts we knew are gone. The road disappears into endless sands with no sense of what’s over that hill or beyond that valley. But we have to go forth. You’ve started that journey — go in peace and God will go with you.

  17. Ken

    I’ve watched your video and read all the responses. There’s one thing that stood out to me in the most perplexing way…not even sure how to comment on it, so I’ll just point it out.
    In your post of Feb 17 at 5:19 your last statement is “The Spirit is strong and I want to hang out wherever she is.”
    I’m perplexed by the word “she”.
    Maybe a result of my ignorance.
    Peace and love in Christ.

  18. Kendall Reimer

    LeeAnne, thank you for voicing your struggle with the Church’s faith formation programs. I too struggle and it’s been soul lifting to watch your video and read the responses. Thank you.

  19. Blair Bickford

    LeeAnne, this is a dynamite confession..I want to tag all my friends so they will see it. The comments are fabulous as well..the most reoccurring word seems to be courage. Keep up the good, honest, loving, service. Know that we struggle to know and be with you. Any time you want to talk about Jesus. do it..looks like you have a very sincere audience that wants to hear!! Thank you.

  20. Dcn Scott Elliott

    Ken –

    I’m not a Greek scholar so I can’t go into depth (maybe a good thing), but in the NT and since, the Holy Spirit is ordinarily referred to as “pneuma” (“wind / breath” — for example, in Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, in John 3), or as “sofia” (“wisdom”). Both of those words are grammatically feminine nouns in Greek, so the proper pronoun would be, in English, “she.”

    So the Greek of, say, John 3:8, would have read, “The wind blows where *she* chooses, and you hear the sound of *her*, but you do not know where *she* comes from of where *she* goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the breath (of God).” And so it is indeed with the Holy Spirit!

    (Compare John 20:22: “When (the resurrected Jesus) had said (peace be with you), he ‘pneuma-ed’ them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Breath….'” Compare also Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning … the pneuma of God swept over the face of the waters.”)

    There are many people, and I am one, who believe that is it inappropriate and misleading that we have all these years attributed masculine gender to the Third Person of the Trinity, when feminine gender, if any, is more fitting — for many reasons, in addition to the grammatical correctness.

    (I am also one who thinks its questionable to attribute masculine gender to the First Person also — that no gender is more in keeping with the Hebrew conception of divinity. But God is more than human, not less than, God cannot be spoken of as though without gender. But of course, God transcends gender — not that God is without gender, but that God contains gender in the fullest, and beyond. So to speak.)

  21. JimBickford

    Reality that conflicts with tradition and reason requires a profound spiritual awareness
    To unveil. Thank you for exposing the uncomfortable truth. Jesus presented a gospel of transformation and liberation, requiring us to wake up and change. But we don’t believe we have time to do this and are not sure we want to change. We do not have to change we have to let go. Self abandonment to divine providence will carry us to the heavenly miracle now. But that’s neither convenient or convincing.

  22. John Cowan

    First, God your good! A wonderful presentation in its honesty and openess.

    Second, I have heard and believe that just before Constantine took over the church there were 6 Million Christians in the Roman Empire with about five competing theologies but the theology had very little to do with why most of them were in the church. They liked the community. Maybe you are arriving back there. Not a bad place to be.

    I too would like them to know more, but was never as successful as you at teaching them. Looks like maybe that saved a lot of disappointment. At St. Anne’s I put all guest speakers into the pulpit. At least they got heard for twenty minutes. Put them in a room after the service and the same six people showed up to hear them. (The Zen Sensei in full robes did push the limits some.) Maybe the teaching place is the liturgy? Small group discussion. Short films. Instructive hymns. I do not know. You are the genius.

    Third, God your Good!

    John Cowan

  23. William Riker

    A “retired” priest now living in New Jersey. I once described what I would see as successful ordained ministry as: living within a Faith Community of persons looking for and living out the ministries to which they feel called. I feel the facilitator priest is a greater model than the activist priest. I would rather be a pastor to prophets than the reverse. Keep up the journey; Keep the Faith.
    Have a son with Delta in St. Paul, I’ll suggest he seek out you and St. Marys.

  24. Rev. Tammy Wooliver

    I’ve been saying this for a while. In my humble opinion, we have been engaged in coddling people, focused on hand holding and being chaplains, rather than holding people responsible to their spiritual lives. I suspect we do this out of fear of losing people…the truth is the opposite however.

  25. Michael Mornard

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that most people want “cheap grace” over 50 years ago; le plus ca change le plus c’est la meme chose. People don’t want to learn about Jesus or be spiritually formed, they want to grudgingly give an hour on Sunday and be told their spiritual ticket has been punched. They want “Sound Byte Jesus.” That doesn’t mean we have to provide it.

    We’re a Church, not a social service agency. Jesus said “Take up your cross and follow me,” not “I’ll boil it down to make it easy.”

    People find time for what’s really important to them.

  26. Dorothy Hunt

    I have never been able to participate in our church’s “bible study” because it’s held at 11 am on Wednesday mornings (has been since the church was founded I think) and I have always worked. Back in the “old days” it was run by the rector, but of course, we haven’t been able to afford a rector for more than ten years now, but the Bible Study group persists. One member took over a sort of leadership of it, and attendance at it ebbs and flows, depending on what book they’re using and who’s mad at whom . . .but it always seems to get back on track and I feel the spirituality that comes out of this small group favorably impacts our church as a whole. Also, I feel that “faith formation” doesn’t just come from formal education – it mainly comes from living life. I lost my husband to cancer over two years ago . . . and that experience has done more to form my faith than any class. While it’s been a painful experience, it’s taught me how much God loves me and is always with me – how I am NEVER alone – and the kindness and compassion I have received has shown me how God takes care of us through other people. My faith is much stronger now. I love that you brought this up, LeeAnne – thank God for these wonderful computers and the means to connect in this strange new busy, busy world!

  27. I actually was relieved to hear what you had to say. You are not alone at St. Mary’s. What you’re encountering is a phenomenon I’ve been dealing with for at least the last 7-8 years as well (if not longer) in the Washington, D.C. area. I graduated seminary 22 years ago…and as you said, the models that worked then, don’t work now…and not just for Adult Education. Now the trick is to somehow do at least two things: 1) When leaders/other people in church say “I’d really like to learn more about the Episcopal Church,” then ask them on the spot gently “Would you come to a class on that if we offered it or is your life just too busy right now?” and “What time would you come?” (Sunday morning between services, after services or other)? 2) Find a way to make explicit the connection between the outreach they’re doing in the name of Christ and faith. Sometimes I think the sermon is the only place left to make these connections because that is the only time we see our folks who truly are too busy to come to a weekday evening class. You have a lot of courage to stop doing what is not life-giving for you nor your congregation anymore. Kind of reminds me of how most of the congregations I’ve served the last 15 years have done away with Bazaars and Rummage Sale–because the women who ran them are too old to do it anymore and younger people don’t have time and don’t find it life-giving. So, go towards where there is life, as you are doing by cancelling this!

  28. I have listened and read all of this with great interest and not a little heart ache. I, too, have been an educator for over 30 years and it just isn’t working the same way it ways did. Now, with a job as a Resource Center Director, I am faced with the real possibility of becoming obsolete, and being the person who may have to close down this particular ministry. Yet, I believe that education/formation is still a vital part of becoming a responsible follower of Christ… so, how do we meet this new future that is coming at us fast and furious? Remember the very old movie “The Time machine”… when the guy got to an amazing future place and all the books they had fell to dust when he touched them? At least our books are becoming electronic or digital or whatever… and information is even closer to our fingertips. Yet, the number of people in Church is declining and what they know about what they are doing there is declining also. I wonder where it will all lead?

  29. Ken Ferguson

    I finally did get the video to run. What a powerful confession. As hard as it was, I believe you made the right decision. In our neighborhood, there’s a family where both parents are very successful in business and their children are inundated with activities before and after School. A friend of mine had supper with the family recently and their 9yr old placed his head on the table during the meal and fell asleep. He was exhausted. My hope is that, given time, my Minnesota neighbors will stop scheduling such busy lives for themselves and their children and will make more time for religious reflection.

  30. Dear LeeAnne,

    An honest and heart-felt lament. Perhaps the beginning of wisdom. You’re not the first or the only one to experience this. As Phyllis Tickle and others have observed, we are in a period of discontinuous change – the old ways don’t necessarily work. And the way ahead is not clear. So, we keep faith and listen and watch for where the Spirit is working. Maybe at St. Mary’s (and elsewhere) it is in the places of connection, hospitality, and generosity where people are experiencing and learning about Jesus by being Jesus’ hands, feet, heart, and mouth. Thank you for your courage. You’ve started a great conversation!

    Letha Wilson-Barnard

  31. Monica Kruger

    Great honest, bold video & great responses! Two things come to mind, both recently found online (hmm…)

    1) John O’Donohue saying the best pedagogy is indirect.
    (unedited On Being interview:

    2) Meredith Gould’s “Christ has No Online Presence but Yours,” based on “Christ Has No Body.”

    Yet, how can we make spiritually oriented learning & practice more accessible in face to face contexts (in things people are busy with or truly able & inclined to take on, not the kind of things you’ve wisely stopped?)

  32. LeeAnne,

    By now, you’re probably aware that your video has been shared all over the religious blogosphere and that a lot of people are connecting to your message and your frustration. Most of us aren’t Pastors or Ministers, and our challenges aren’t the same as yours, but we are all looking for a way to communicate how we feel about our faith. Right now, there must be thousands of people, including me, who’d love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (or three) and talk about Jesus for hours on end. I know that I feel very isolated sometimes because I have very few people to discuss my faith with (face to face…there are tons, online, but it’s not the same). We share your desire to learn (and in your case, to teach) and to be immersed in a sense of spirituality and holiness and “connectedness”. I don’t know if you intended your video to have such an effect, but it did. I’m not a Pastor or a teacher or anyone special. I’m just an ordinary guy. But your honesty and candor made a difference.

    Thank you.


  33. Steve

    My takeaway: relationships–and not programming–need to be at the center of ministry.

  34. Rev. Harry Grinstad

    Dear LeeAnne,

    How courageous and right you are. If something is NOT working; if people are not responding, then STOP.
    The only reason one might continue is for those few stalwart souls who DO respond. I have a few of them in my congregation. But most do not attend adult education, and at the same time they wonder why our kids walk out of the church as soon as they are confirmed…. could be modeling.

    There is something in the culture that is subverting the “way we’ve always done it.” And it’s past time to rethink Christian Ed.

    I think you touched on something when you said that people want to FEEL that what they do matters. In service to others, there is a feel-good reward for them; self-gratification that is missing in Bible studies, book studies and the like. And let’s face it. Doing theological work may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

    I don’t know what the solution/answer is, but the first step is naming the problem. Better perhaps to slide theology in while they’re not looking, so they won’t recognize it as such.

    Keep the faith; and May God’s deep peace surround and fill you.


  35. Lisa

    Oh Thank GOD – I am not alone! We are not alone. My church is not alone!
    You and your church are not alone, either.
    Thanks so much for your honesty and courage.
    Pastor of a UCC Congregation

  36. Thank you for sharing what is a powerful kairos! And as others have said you are not alone! We have found so much help from a group know as 3dm – that has helped us look at an old/new paradigm.
    Keep the faith! Remain obedient! God will bless your leadership and ministry!

  37. Gwen

    Is it possible to ‘teach’ in the setting of which the students choose? If parishioners have a desire to do the work of God’s hands in soup kitchens or school buildings, could teaching about Jesus and God’s Word happen with them shoulder to shoulder serving soup and telling Jesus stories there? Does one have to come to a classroom in order to be taught? or might study groups form themselves out of mutual relationship building in the community, creating a sincere desire just to know more about this man Jesus, whose Family congregates inside the Church building walls?.

  38. Pastor Carol Wendel

    Oh, I hear you!! Always the same folks who respond to studies and workshops. We live in a new world, people are hungry, and as usual, the church is in the wrong decade to respond to the need. Instead of being in the forefront leading the way, we are dragged kicking and screaming into meeting people, reaching people where they are. I hear/share your frustrations, but am committed to keeping on keeping on as I attempt to help people identify their deepest needs and provide the Good News to address them. Keep the faith, sister, God is in the midst of it and will make a way!!

  39. Ken Coit

    I get more knowledge from one of Fr. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations than I do from most sermons or an adult ed class. They come by email and usually some one of my friends is commenting on it before I get to read it myself. There is much more to faith than traditional methods seem to be able to cover in the time most people have, even retirees.
    Here’s one example:–Discerning-Our-Complicity—-Feb–29–2012.html?soid=1103098668616&aid=ZmxQEoItLVA

    I suggest we all read his daily meditations and get on with what faith should be about.

  40. Mark Clevenger

    Of the five typical subcongregations found in every congregation, two do not seek formation. I wonder if Saint Mary’s is reflecting the same thing that seems to be happening in most mainline congregations? More IIIs, more Vs (in the social justice focused churches); and far fewer IIs, and IVs?

    The Episcopal Church was founded by IVs for IVs, but that is no longer the case. The ordinal is a IV perspective on the roles and responsibilities of ordained people. Our seminaries (last bastions of IVs) largely continue to train people to meet the needs of people who do not exist out in the parishes.

    Since I know you, I know you are a wonderful III with a deep streak of V. You’ve been at St. Mary’s long enough for the place to have taken on your personality shape.

    IIIs and Vs resist formation. They experience God on other wavelengths. (Relational and Service)

    I’m pretty sure that all this need not be an occasion for prolonged sadness. Sometimes I miss the IVish of the denomination into which I was ordained.

    Hope this helps.

  41. Jim Dickson

    Success often begins with surrender, witness Edison, Steve Jobs and countless others. You are already reaping a harvest of well thought out helps.

    Jesus trained twelve, left this world, and they “turned the world upside down.” Seminaries would do well to highlight this and emphasize disciplemaking and “the priesthood of believers” a la Martin Luther. (Luther however didn’t have a process. This came with John Wesley’s “Class Meetings” and continues in a wide variety of forms today.)

    Many clergy do not have the gift of teaching. Even if they do like Moses, they probably should delegate this load. Teaching can be done by gifted laity under the oversight of the pastor. In our parish of 250 or so (Sunday worship) there are 15-20 weekly small groups. The majority are “Bible studies” with the rector only leading 2-3. The groups are strong on Bible integrity.

    Your love for your people and their desire to make a difference in the community are valuable strengths to build on. May the Lord Jesus grant you and your vestry a full measure of wisdom in sculpting a process unique to St Mary’s for equipping the saints entrusted to your care.

  42. Hello everyone –

    My! Thank you all again for such thoughtful and useful responses. I’ve gotten emails and posts from all across the Episcopal world, UCC, Congregational, and even a synagogue. (I preached about all this on Feb 19, if you’d like to listen to the podcast.) It seems the world is changing everywhere! Glad that we can be in conversation across the lines that might ordinarily divide us.

    I read Diana Butler Bass’s book this week, and her last couple of chapters provide a good perspective on this. As church we have been taught to answer the ‘what’ questions. But people now are asking the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.

    For me the most interesting path that is opening up, now that we have stopped trying to make the old ways work, is building on the popularity of the sermon podcasts and also the St Mary’s Mornings, a daily email of wisdom, scripture or prayer. (you can see them on our Facebook page, and subscribe if you like.) We are starting to think about how we might go where people are and serve this expanded and virtual ‘congregation’ by using online tools to foster further discussion.

    We are also beginning to ponder how to use these virtual connections to bring together those doing outreach work to reflect on the spiritual understandings of their experience. Of course nothing replaces face-to-face relationship, but still, I think we underestimate the connection that happens virtually.

    I appreciate the thoughtfulness and support that this ‘conversation’ has generated.

    I wish you all good things –


    PS – I will say that, as it turns out, I hate being videoed and was really nervous and it came across as sadness or depression – which is not how I feel, but is apparently how I appear on tape. Good to know! Many of you have sought to re-assure me – thanks, but I’m actually really good. I’d be bored stiff if we weren’t going through a reformation. God put me in the right era!

  43. Phil Gardner


    You have come up against abject selfishness, and nothing less than that. There just aren’t “brownie points” in doing Bible study. Feeding the poor? Stocking the food pantry? That’s cool; I get noticed. But, showing up for Bible study? What’s in it for ME?”

    Maybe what’s left is teaching them when you have them…a sermon series on bottom-line stuff. In truth, I don’t have a clue, either.

  44. Susan Hogsette

    LeeAnne, We know that St Mary’s St Paul is not an enclave of failure because they clearly have a leader with vision and courage! Thank you for saying what is true in so many congregations. My two cents is that most people are not natural learning sponges like myself (and most clergy). I love to learn – I am happiest when I am learning and challenged. People tend to be drawn to what they are successful at and what makes them happy. I share your frustration. I guess the challenge is how do we meet people where they are? Different levels of engagement for different lives and learning styles must be part of the solution. Peace. Susan Hogsette, Mansfield OH

  45. Hilton Austin Jr.

    First, let me say, having read all of the comments, you are doing a great job of teaching. As a very involved lay person who is astounded at what appears to be apathy when it comes to not only adult education but education in general, I feel your pain. I am sure that what you have started here is the spark that will turn into the blaze of the spirit; it is time for reformation and revival. Jesus always meets people where they are; that is what we have to do. God is good; He will lead us, if we take time to listen. Thank you for listening and beginning this change, whatever it may look like. ‘The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes.’ Martin Luther had no idea what change would look like; he only knew that change was required. I know that great things are down the path for you and your church. Have fun!

  46. Maybe, instead of at church or in class, your folks are meeting Jesus at the food pantry and tutoring? Maybe they are still learning about him.

    I’ve also wondered if we live in an age where people prefer to learn and study on their own (i.e., online), and feel hesitant to join groups, where they might feel vulnerable.

    I’m inspired by your idea of a daily email.

    Thanks for posting the video and opening this conversation.

  47. Charmaine Bird, Senior Warden/ All Saints


    It seems you have generated a discussion that resonates with a lot of people and it seems to be a wonderful spark that you have created to resonate so deeply. I am one of those who attend Sunday service, but rarely Bible Study or other offerrings. I do, however, work with First Nations Kitchen and distribute organic goods to another community. I am not motivated by a desire to ‘feel good’ (i am sometimes saddened by what I witness or feel inadequate to the task, so I feel anything but ‘good’) or to have others praise me for good works (I am sometimes embarassed by not being better). I do this because I was taught by my parents and grandparents that “You will know them by thier deeds” and as an outcome of my understanding of GBD and what I am called to do. I also feel a need to give something back to both my church family and the people in my community who were supportive of me when I was out of work and in danger of losing my home. I find the experience of serving our community and working with the volunteers to be humbling, because there is so much need.

    Many hands make light work. We could not begin to fulfill the mission we began without the network of other congregations who give so much of their time and support.

    I guess I would like to see some more discerrnment around this issue of serving where one sees a need, as I do believe that some are called to serve. The people who help, in my experience, are working in concert, in community, not for self-aggrandizement, but because it is something they are capable of doing that provides for those who have so little in the way of food, shelter and material goods. Love and the spirit of Christ goes into the provision. The people volunteering are modeling and teaching something by example and I trust sometimes also learn somethimg in the process and from some of our guests, many of whom are resilient and amazing people. Isn’t Spirit manifested through action? I guess I am vaguely disturbed by what seems to be a judgement about the motivations those who choose to serve. But would it be a sin to feel good or to be joyful in service?

    I love being in my church community and finding strength and peace and renewal in our sanctuary and also to reflect on my transgressions, and rejoice in the grace of God. But I don’t check Jesus at the door when I leave. Sunday service would have little meaning in my life if I did not find the presence of Spirit outside the building and the Gospel would have little meaning to me if I didn’t pray every day to be in good faith in my daily round.

    I think it would be beneficial to those of you who teach the rest of us, if you could have some assurance that many of us do hear the Word and struggle to carry it out literally, figuratively, and spiritually to the best of our abilities and understanding, often in ways that the ones who do not walk in our shoes could never know, just as we may not be aware of your struggles.

    I deeply appreciate your openess and candidness and ability to communicate and generate such a response. It seems to me that by shining this light, you are providing an opportunity for us to reflect on not only what we are about as individuals but also as members of the larger body, in what you rightly call a changing world.

    My mother always tells me when God closes a door, he opens a window.
    Thank you.
    Yours in faith,


  48. Janet Peterson

    Dear LeeAnne,

    What a common problem we all share. Our church has struggled for years trying to have successful adult ed. programs with little success. What we do have are several very active lay-instigated and lay-lead Bible studies, that have growned by word of mouth. Some use Christian books for their study, others use the lectionary used in the Lutheran church. Attempts at other adult ed. have seemed to fall flat–the same handful of faithful people come, or one or two new people might show up, usually if it is a short term class.

    One new thing that has started, and again, is lay-initiated, is a prayer ministry group, based on Matt. 18:19-20, that meets weekly to pray for the pastors and the vaious ministries of the church–youth, faith formation, music, adult ed., etc. This is not a “go-around-the circle and pray” group, but a conversational prayer that goes back and forth as the Spirit leads. The group prays for the various requests from the staff, sometimes personal requests, as well as ministry requests. We are a small group, none of us had met before we came together, and we are seeing answered prayers, excitement, positive responses from the staff, and the reality of the faithfulness and goodness of God. We also pray for the church lay leadership, and our congregation. Our group has grown modestly and includes both men and women. We try to limit our time to one hour, and that never seems long enough. It has been such a positive experience for all of us. We hear comments here and there that “something is happening” and “things are getting better”, and more comments on the sermons. We wonder why we didn’t start here long ago.

    Thanks for this opportunity to share ideas, as well as common frustrations.


  49. Rev. Sue Poulin

    Wow!!! First of all I so appreciate your honesty and boldness. Thanks for speaking of an issue that clearly is not just yours and mine(: I am the Rector of a small church in New Hampshire. I love the people and so often feel like a failure when I am unsure if I am doing what I was taught is the “right” thing to do. Loved the 6 classes for Baptism, Hello???? Systematically I can see that God is opening doors all over the place. I too have pretty much stopped many of the adult ed class. Sometime I realized that I wanted for them something they didn’t want, or have time for, for themselves. Sometimes I just wanted to share things that I still think are amazing and interesting. Even if, like you, they tell me they want to know more and are fascinated by……… But at the end of the day I continue to know that it is so not about me. (Not always an easy pill to swallow) (:

    After looking at the demographics of our congregation I realized how many people travel a minimum of 35 minutes to church. Many of them work during the week, etc. With this in mind I have tried to do programing on Sundays. The Education piece has not increased, but the outreach is taking off!!!! The Holy Spirit is so excited about this. I have to laugh and rejoice.

    After reading so many of the responses, light dawned on marblehead(: More people from my congregation and others follow my blog reflections than any class I have ever taught. What does that say? Maybe I can have those conversations, share the information and teach in ways that I feel called to, but in a different form. God Rocks!!

    Thank you for being a catalyst for this conversation. Bye the way, I did not experience you as depressed, I just thought you were putting this out there. This is amazing, wonderful and challenging work we do. I know for me if I do not continue in the discernment and reflection with others I can feel very alone and isolated. We are all trying to find new ways to “do church”. We cannot do that in the context of our congregation without feeling self absorbed or cranky, or I can’t. I love the people I serve! I love that God called called me to the priesthood! Sometimes I need to know that we are all trying to figure out how to spread the Gospel message, love God, one another, and stay sane(: Thanks for the help.

    Wishing you all a blessed Lent and joyous Easter.

  50. This worth the time to hear for those that teach and those that learn and those that are in either camp.

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